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The Boston Globe


Stage Review

‘Vinegar Tom’ emphasizes the dark in witch hunt tale

‘Nobody sings about it, but it happens all the time” goes the refrain of a song in Caryl Churchill’s “Vinegar Tom.” What happens all the time in her chilling 1976 play is the persecution, and execution, of “witches.” But Churchill does sing about it, in ditties with titles like “Something to Burn” and “Evil Women,” in the course of exposing the misogyny and hypocrisy of the 17th century and also the 20th. It’s a dark work, and it gets a very dark production from Whistler in the Dark in the Boston Center for the Arts’ Rehearsal Hall A.

The title character of “Vinegar Tom” is a black cat who never appears — which is appropriate for what the company calls “A play about witches, with no witches in it.” The setting is a village in 17th-century England, but Churchill asks that the seven songs she wrote be sung by figures in modern dress. Her lyrics pull no punches: “If you float you’re a witch. . . . If you sink, you’re dead anyway.” For this production, the songs were composed by Molly Allis, Juliet Olivier, and Veronica Barron; they’re performed by Barron and Tony Leva, with backup from some of the actors. There’s nothing very interesting about the spare music or Barron’s vocal delivery, but the message does register.

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